Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More on saying "Yes" to life, even an "unexciting" one

In the last entry I wrote about how rabbis Singer and Rosensweig and their intense love of the Talmud, Hashem and the Halakhah represent for me individuals and a tradition that profoundly says "Yes" to all that life brings.

This fundamental position is the one that inspires me the most and one that I look for in any tradition or practice that I explore.

Just recently I discovered a new poet, Kenneth Koch. He was a friend and colleague of John Ashbery and part of the so-called New York School of Poetry of which he once said “Maybe you can almost characterize the poetry of the New York School as having as one of its main subjects the fullness and richness of life and the richness of possibility and excitement and happiness.”

To this line I want to say, "Amen."

Yes life is so full and so rich, even if is An Unexciting Life, as the title of one of my favorite books describes it. The book is on Benedictine spirituality and its Introduction begins:
Some years ago I read a quotation from a letter of Gustave Flaubert, creator of Madame Bovary, which could easily serve as a summary of one aspect of the spirituality that stems from the Rule of St. Benedict. As I remember it, the text ran: "Be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may violent and original in your work." What he seems to be be saying is that the price paid for the release of the inner spark of creativity is low impact living: the renunciation of superficial excitement, passive entertainment and mindless celebrity. In other words, exterior dullness is a condition of inner excitement. To describe this happy state I coined the phrase "creative monotony."

For us who live in a sensate society dominated by an appetite for excitement, no matter how vacuous its source, the preferential option for a quiet life may seem a little peculiar. No doubt in the midst of the helter skelter of a busy life, the idea of an oasis of silence has a certain appeal, but relatively few of us seriously consider building into our lives the values by which Benedict lived.

This reluctance derives, in part, from a misunderstanding of the nature of the unexciting life. The serenity envisaged by the Benedictine motto pax (peace) is not the deathly stillness of a stagnant swamp where nothing ever happens, nor is it the lassitude resulting from the abandonment of all ideals and the dodging of every challenge. The outward call, the nurtures inward growth is the fruit of a well disciplined life pursued through many years, and of battle-scarred victory in many struggles."

While everything I know and read about and listen to in regard to a Yeshiva is that they are not places of quiet or serenity, but they are places that offer something very different from the "sensate society dominated by an appetite for excitement, no matter how vacuous its source."

In future posts I will explore what Michael Casey says in An Unexciting Life, as well as other views that say a powerful Yes!

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